It’s not often that Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) airs an entire funeral live on national TV, not least for a former football player and coach. It just shows how much Nils Arne Eggen meant to the entire country, not just to football fans and the Rosenborg club in Trondheim where he became a legend.
Eggen, who died early Wednesday after a long period of ailing health, is also credited with revolutionizing football in Norway and proving to the entire contry that Norwegian players could compete and excel against some of the world’s biggest clubs. He led Rosenborg into the Champions League, the first Norwegian club to ever do so, and to victories over clubs like AC Milan and Real Madrid.
“He was the best and probably the most influential Norwegian football coach of all time,” Ole Gunnar Solskjær of Manchester United fame, told newspaper Aftenposten. Solskjær has been far from alone as tributes have rolled in to Eggen: “He’s the greatest we’ve ever had in Norwegian football, and one of the greatest in Norwegian athletics,” said veteran sports commentator Arne Scheie. “He dominated during a period spanning 50 years. I’m almost at a loss for words.”
Eggen was a much-loved Trønder (person from Trøndelag in central Norway, the county around Trondheim), born in Orkdal in 1941 and debuting as a Rosenborg player himself in 1960. He was tapped for the national team in 1963 and then by the Vålerenga football club in Oslo, but he moved mack to Trondheim and Rosenborg just three years later. He started coaching for Rosenborg (also known as RBK), led them to the league championship, then coached the national team and really started making magic back at Rosenborg in the 1990s.
He won lots of awards and was even knighted by King Harald in 2003 before coaching his last season at Rosenborg in 2010. He was honoured with a statue at Rosenborg’s Lerkendal Stadium in 2019 and it was surrounded this week with flowers and candlelights after news spread of his death at the age of 80.
Eggen suffered personal tragedy as well, losing his wife Karin to cancer early and his son Knut Torbjørn, also a highly regarded football player and coach, to suicide in 2012 after a long struggle with mental illness. Kjetil Rekdal, another legendary Norwegian football player who recently took over as Rosenborg’s coach, was also among those hailing Eggen this week, mentioning that his latest visit with Eggen “will motivate me” as he takes over Eggen’s old club.
“I’ve always had great respect for what Nils Arne managed to do,” Rekdal told news bureau NTB. “He was a fantastic personality, could be very stubbon, angry one minute and very kind the next.”
Eggen’s funeral was held back home in Orkdal on Friday January 28. NRK broadcast the entire ceremony live from the Orkdal Church in Fannrem and shared video photos with other media. The state broadcaster reported that Eggen’s family was glad that so many were thus able to follow the funeral since only limited numbers could be admitted to the church because of Corona restrictions.